Olive Ridley turtles came to nest on Kolavipaalam beach since time immemorial. In 1992, some of the youth of the village while reading the newspaper (The Hindu) came across an article that talked about the endangered status of the Olive Ridley turtles. It suddenly dawned on them that the marine turtles, which came to nest on their beach so regularly needed protection, and this motivated them to act upon what nature had blessed them with. They formed a group called Theeram Prakriti Samrakshana Samiti with 12 members. The key persons in this effort are the present president of Theeram, Mr. Surendra Babu, and the Joint Secretary, Mr. K. Vijayan.
Initially, they had no clue as to how many days were required for turtle eggs to hatch. Hence, the first nesting season when the protection measure began, they literally spread mats over the nest and slept there to 1) protect the nest from jackals that abound the area, and, 2) to see when the hatchlings came out. They deduced that since nobody in their village knew how long it took for the turtle eggs to hatch and since they have not seen hatchlings come out during the daytime, the eggs hatched at night and they hence decided to sleep near the nests. It was this lack of knowledge that prompted these educated village youth to read various books. And that was also how they realised the importance of protecting the mangroves in their area for the benefit of the coastal ecosystem.
During the Olive Ridley nesting season of October-March, the youth of the village keep watch over the beach to check on turtles that come to nest. As soon as a turtle lays its eggs and returns to the sea, the watchful youth transfer the eggs into a sheltered hatchery that has been constructed for this purpose. A meticulous record is maintained of the number of eggs that are laid by each turtle, the dates when these were laid and so on. On hatching, the turtles are immediately released into the sea. The hatchery is part of the beach that has been fenced off. The fence is made of dried palm thatch supported on bamboo stakes and wrapped with old fishing nets. The fence is about seven feet high to provide protection from stray dogs and jackals. Inside the hatchery, the pits are marked out and paper boards are stuck into the sand that notify the day when the eggs were laid and when they are expected to hatch. A big threat to these eggs is from the jackals that inhabit the mangroves nearby. They smell the eggs as soon as they are laid and immediately prey on them. It is for this reason that the village youth transfer the eggs into the protected hatchery. Initially, the youth tried to protect the nests in their natural state, by fencing them with dried palm thatch. But, the jackals burrow through the sand and eat the eggs.
The group also met with active support from the forest department. The Divisional Forest Officer (DFO) in charge in 1996, Mr. Amit Mallik, took interest in the effort. Later, in 1997, Mrs. Prakriti Srivastava, DFO, encouraged the local youth to keep watch over the beach by paying daily wages for four members during the nesting season and providing them with iron cages. However, these iron cages have not become popular with the youth. Allegedly, these cages have been responsible for the death of hatchlings that got trapped beneath these cages and could not come out. The forest department now pays six members of Theeram a wage of around Rs 2500 per month per person. This scheme is only during the nesting season from October to March.
On realising the important role of mangroves in the conservation of the coastal ecosystem, the youth have started an afforestation programme of mangroves in about 5 acres in the estuarine portion of the CCA. This began in 1998 when the forest department and other NGOs conducted nature camps and slide shows for the residents of this village. The forest department initially supplied mangrove seeds to the villagers. About Rs 15000 has been donated by the gram panchayat to buy mangrove seeds from private sources in Kannoor. Theeram members encourage and involve the local residents as well as local school children in planting these saplings along the estuarine region of their area.
The forest department has plans to set up a nature interpretation centre here. Theeram members conduct their meetings at a small building that has been constructed with financial aid from the forest department. This building also serves as a shelter where, during the nesting season, the members patrol the beach in rotation. There are also a few specimens of turtles and turtle hatchlings kept as exhibits for visitors. This building thus doubles up as an informal nature interpretation centre as well as Theeram’s office.
The youth of the village and especially Theeram members are actively involved in the conservation efforts, and other community members are aware of the conservation effort and provide passive support to it. Before the involvement of the forest department, funds for guarding the eggs were generated by donations in cash and kind from within the group and the community. Even now, the community participates in the mangrove afforestation programme. Whenever nature awareness programmes are carried out, they are keen to learn new things.